Chapter 1

Introduction and background


On 2 December 2019, the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee (the committee) self-referred under Standing Order 25(2)(a) an inquiry into Australia’s general aviation industry, with particular reference to aviation in regional, rural and remote Australia. The committee agreed to provide an interim report on or before the final sitting day in December 2020 and a final report date on or before the final sitting day in November 2021. On 20 October 2021, the committee agreed to an extension of time to report until 17 March 2022.
On 16 March 2022, the committee agreed to extend the final reporting date to 20 October 2022 and provide this interim report on 30 March 2022.
The committee agreed to consider the operation and effectiveness of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and other relevant aviation agencies, with particular reference to:
the legislative and regulatory framework underpinning CASA’s aviation safety management functions, including:
the application of the Civil Aviation Act 1988 and the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR) to Australia’s aviation sector, and whether the legislation is fit for purpose;
the safety and economic impacts, and the relative risks of CASA’s aviation safety frameworks; and
the engagement of CASA with other relevant Australian Government agencies.
the immediate and long-term social and economic impacts of CASA decisions on small businesses, agricultural operations and individuals across regional, rural and remote Australia;
CASA's processes and functions, including:
its maintenance of an efficient and sustainable Australian aviation industry, including viable general aviation and training sectors;
the efficacy of its engagement with the aviation sector, including via public consultation; and
its ability to broaden accessibility to regional aviation across Australia, considering the associated benefits of an expanded aviation sector; and
any related matters.

Conduct of the inquiry

Information about the inquiry was made available on the committee’s webpage. The committee also wrote to aviation industry stakeholders and organisations to invite submissions. Details of the inquiry and associated documents are available on the committee’s webpage.
As of 25 March 2022, the committee had received 70 public submissions which are published on the committee webpage and are listed at Appendix 1.
The committee has, to date, held four public hearings. The hearings were all held by videoconference:
Canberra, ACT, on 20 November 2020;
Brisbane, QLD, on 28 January 2021;
Canberra, ACT, on 7 September 2021; and
Canberra, ACT on 7 December 2021.
A list of the witnesses who provided evidence at the public hearings is available at Appendix 2.


The committee thanks the individuals and organisations who have contributed to this inquiry to date, by preparing written submissions and giving evidence at public hearings.

Reference to Hansard

References to Hansard in the report refer to either the proof or the official transcripts with page numbers potentially varying.

Structure of the report

The report is broken down into six chapters. This chapter introduces the inquiry and provides an overview of the aviation and general aviation (GA) industry in Australia, including safety concerns, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), the Civil Aviation Act 1988 and the CASR. It also provides the main findings from a number of recent reviews into the aviation sector. A brief background is also provided in relation to other agencies within the aviation safety framework and the international regulatory environment.
Chapter 2 provides information regarding improved safety in GA and the relative risks in GA.
Chapter 3 provides an overview and highlights issues of the legislative and regulatory framework which underpins GA safety in Australia.
Chapter 4 examines some of the issues identified in relation to the inquiry about the culture of CASA and its interactions with the GA industry, including the role of the Industry Complaints Commissioner.
Chapter 5 examines the issues of education and training, particularly for GA pilots and engineers, including training streams and the need for harmonisation between CASA and Australian Skills Quality Authority courses and qualifications.
Chapter 6 considers emerging airport management, ownership and cost issues which have arisen from the divestment and privatisation of regional aerodromes, as well as community concerns on these matters.


General Aviation in Australia

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) classifies GA as covering a range of operations that are not commercial air transport services, such as aerial work (agriculture, photography, surveying, search and rescue, firefighting, construction, aerial advertising and observation and patrol), instructional flying and pleasure flying.1
GA also contributes to the connectivity and sustainability of Australian life, especially in regional and remote areas. It delivers education and health services, provides regional freight and transport, community safety, tourism, recreation, executive and specialist mobility for primary and secondary industries, while playing a major role in firefighting and search and rescue activities.2 GA is also an important element of flying training, with many flight crews progressing from flight training institutions to GA before working for airlines.3
The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) emphasised the broad yet integral and dynamic role GA plays in Australian aviation, saying:
… the traditional bundle of activities considered to be GA is not stagnant. Defining the scope of GA too narrowly runs the risk of ignoring how the health of GA is inextricably linked with all aspects of the Australian aviation industry, as well as international supply chains and the global economic environment.4

Flying activity in general aviation

CASA reported that as of June 2020, there were 15,721 VH-registered aircraft on the CASA register, of which approximately 2,000 are larger aircraft used for air transport operations and 2,000 that may not be flying. This leaves 11,000 both fixed and rotary wing aircrafts capable of being used for GA purposes. There are a further 3,232 aircraft on the Recreational Aviation Australia register which are used for GA, including flying training.5
The basic measure of aviation activity is by flying hours. The flying hours of Australian aircraft in 2018, 2019 and 2020, as reported in the annual survey of aircraft owners by BITRE, are detailed in Table 1.1. Air travel was disrupted in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Total hours flown in Australian by Australian owned and operated aircraft decreased by 31.4 per cent in 2020, to 2.47 million hours, largely due to a fall in RPT services. Other VH-Registered aircraft fell by 7.8 per cent in 2020 to 1.59 million hours. 6
Table 1.1:  Thousand of hours flown in Australian aircraft by activity, 20182020
Change in 2020
Commercial air transport
General Aviation
Aerial work
Own use business
Instructional flying
Sport and pleasure flying
Other flying
Total GA (VH)
Sport aviation (non-VH)
Source: Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, Australian Aircraft Activity – *VH aircraft are registered with CASA, *non-VH aircraft are registered with self-administrating associations
In 2020, GA accounted for 54.3 per cent of the total hours flown in VHregistered aircraft. Of all aircraft types by activity and total hours flown in 2020, GA accounted for 46.5 per cent, scheduled commercial air transport 21.0 per cent, non-scheduled commercial 17.8 per cent and sport aviation (nonVH registered) 14.5 per cent.7
In 2020, 3,537 of GA and Commercial Air Transport VH-registered aircraft did not fly, mainly due to repair/maintenance and restoration (43.5 per cent), as well as being in storage (18.4 per cent), being unairworthy or unserviceable (7.2 per cent), lack of business or the company no longer operating (4.4  per cent), owner health issues or death (2.3 per cent) and drought (1.0 per cent). 8

Sport and recreation aviation in Australia

CASA reported that sport aviation 'covers almost half the aircraft operating in Australia' and 'involves about 40,000 participants'. CASA's definition of sport aviation includes: recreational unmanned aircraft; parachuting; warbirds; amateur-built and experimental aircraft; and recreational ballooning.9
Sport and recreation aviation in Australia consists of several aviation self-administration organisations (ASAO) and includes several aviation activities which may involve aircraft not designed or built to any recognised civil aviation standard. These organisations have their own registrations, licensing, training and airworthiness standards and include:
Australian Ballooning Federation (ABF);
Australian Parachute Federation Ltd (APF);
Australian Skydiving Association (ASA);
Australian Sport Rotorcraft Association (ASRA);
Australian Warbirds Association Limited (AWAL);
Gliding Federation of Australia (GFA);
Hang Gliding Federation of Australia (HGFA);
Model Aircraft Association of Australia (MAAA);
Recreational Aviation Australia (RA-Aus); and
Sport Aircraft Association of Australia (SAAA).10

Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics GA Study

In October 2016, the then Minister for Infrastructure and Transport commissioned the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) to conduct a study into GA in Australia. The report was released on 20 December 2017. While the report stated that at the time there was ‘no robust, comprehensive economic measures of GA in Australia’,11 it did provide data on activity and found that, since 2010, total manned GA activity in Australia has been on the decline, especially flight training, private flying and some international activities, although aerial mustering and search and rescue activities increased.12
The key issues identified in the BITRE GA study were:
an aging aircraft fleet;
changes to operating arrangements at some airports and the effects on small aircraft operators of airports being upgraded to cater for larger aircraft;
aviation safety regulations; and
changing flying training pathways.13
In terms of aviation safety regulatory changes, GA sector representatives informed BITRE that such changes were having an ‘unnecessary adverse impact on the GA sector’. Concerns raised included:
the cost of some changes was too high;
a ‘one size fits all’ approach to regulation with some changes brought in for all aircraft was not appropriate for smaller GA aircraft; and
regulations should be aligned with particular regulatory regimes overseas.14
Key messages from GA representatives were that the current regulatory approaches:
lack a compelling safety case to justify changes;
are too complex and incorrectly treated GA like larger aircraft or maintenance operations;
do not have enough regard to cost implications;
are not risk-based (although GA has higher accident rates than major commercial airline operations, the number of people at risk is significantly lower); and
are not aligned fully with international regulatory regimes (missing harmonisation benefits).15

The General Aviation Advisory Network: New Strategy for the Australian GA Sector

The General Aviation Advisory Network (GAAN) was established in October 2016 to provide advice to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport on matters affecting the GA sector. On 18 November 2020, GAAN finalised a New Strategy for the Australian General Aviation Sector. The Strategy identified the following initiatives for action:
Economic review of the sector to identify its value to the economy, looking behind frontline participants to the users of, and demand for, GA services and to provide all levels of government and industry with better information for supportive policy implementation.
Create a world-class regulatory environment for GA, to address cultural, systemic and practice-based issues currently hampering GA’s relationship with and the effectiveness of CASA through the adoption of a better Classification of Operations policy, cooperative regulation principles, and the application of GA sector risk profiles, along with the reform of GA-specific rulesets imposing unnecessary costs and red tape.
Review of the Civil Aviation Act 1988 to ensure that CASA and the regulations it creates do not impose unnecessary costs on industry while providing the capability for a modern approach to regulation in GA including harmonisation with best international practice, outcome-based regulations, cooperation with industry to access expertise and to drive continuous improvement, improve CASA’s governance and reduce the potential for impediments to innovation and economic harm.
Training pathways to ensure the ongoing availability of skills and competencies for the sector by dealing with student support programs, duplication between government agencies, better outcomes for trainees and reduced cost and complexity for industry.
Airports and infrastructure facilities and policy to support GA flight and ground-based activities for all aspects of the sector.
Airspace for GA operations, to address equitable airspace access and support new technologies, national security, safety and operational efficiency.
Aviation design, manufacture and export to capitalise on Australia’s proven innovation to create jobs and compete in international markets by identifying and removing unnecessary red tape while championing the potential of the industry to grow significantly while providing national capability enhancements and sustainable jobs.
Early adoption of technology and a facilitation process to support, extend and leverage Australia’s aircraft engineering, research, and development capabilities, fostering innovation and realising economic, environmental, and social benefits.16
In 2020, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (the Department) released the Future of Australia’s Aviation Sector - Issues Paper to inform potential policy directions to manage the challenges facing the aviation industry, including reducing the regulatory burden on stakeholders within the GA industry.17 Subsequently (in December 2021), the Australian Government released the Aviation Recovery Framework, Flying to Recover report.
In the report, GA was recognised as a key component of the aviation ecosystem. The Government’s stated intention in the report was to refine the regulatory framework to further improve aviation safety and better understand GA’s contribution to the economy and the community.18

Safety issues

Safety is paramount in the aviation industry. In 2019 there were 222 aircraft involved in accidents in Australia with 35 fatalities from 22 fatal accidents. This is consistent with the 32.3 average of the previous nine years. There were 17 GA fatalities reported in 2019. In the period from 2010 to 2019, over 90 per cent of accidents and fatal accidents involving aircraft were operating within the GA and recreational sector. Aerial work, which accounts for 40 per cent of GA hours flown, was the main contributor to GA accidents. Most accidents were related to operational or technical issues. Recreational accidents were mainly due to terrain collisions or technical problems such as engine failure or malfunction. Since 2016, remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) have surpassed helicopters to become the second most common aircraft type involved in an accident.19
Chapter 2 discusses the issue of safety in more detail.

Legislative and regulatory framework

International regulatory environment

Australia is one of the 193 signatory states to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (the Chicago Convention), which provides for the ‘safe and orderly’ development of international civil aviation, ‘established on the basis of equality of opportunity and operated soundly and economically’.20 The Chicago Convention established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency with responsibility for creating standards and recommended practices for civil aviation.21
Relevant sections of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices for GA are Annex 1 (training); Annex 6, Part II, Section 1 and 2 (non-commercial use of aircraft) and Annex 6, part II, Section 3 (non-commercial use of large aircraft).

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority

Established in 1995, CASA is an independent statutory authority that regulates Australian aviation safety and the operation of Australian aircraft overseas, and reports to the Minister for the Department. The CASA Board, appointed by the Minister, is responsible for deciding objectives, strategies, and policies and for overseeing the performance of CASA. CASA is responsible for licensing pilots, registering aircraft, overseeing and promoting safety and ensuring Australian airspace is administered and used safely.22
CASA’s role is described in the Civil Aviation Act 1988, the basis of the CASR which contain associated relevant Manual of Standards and guidance material.
CASA’s aviation safety functions include:
issuing licences, certificates, authorisations, approvals and other permissions required by persons undertaking aviation-related activities in Australia including administering medical standards applicable to licence holders;
regulatory surveillance and oversight including implementing regulatory changes and taking appropriate enforcement action when necessary;
oversight of aircraft, maintenance and flying operations through surveillance of passenger-carrying, charter and freight operations and maintenance organisations;
developing, establishing and monitoring the instructional standards for the flying training industry and the flying standards and competency of CASA flying operations inspectors;
developing aviation safety standards and guidance material;
conducting safety education and training; and
analysing data, providing advice and making the appropriate interventions to maintain and improve Australian aviation safety performance.23
CASA employs around 850 staff in offices around Australia.24 According to the former CEO Mr Shane Carmody, ‘CASA seeks to promote a positive and collaborative safety culture through a fair, effective, and efficient aviation safety regulatory system, supporting all members of the aviation community’.25
CASA has a dedicated General, Recreational and Sport Aviation Branch, including a Flight-Testing Office providing oversight of over 1,300 industry flight examiner rating holders.26 The Branch also provides oversight of nine self-administering organisations, some of which are transitioning to Part 149 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR). This will allow these organisations to continue administering sport aviation activities under new prescribed standards covering pilot and maintainer qualifications, approval of associated flying and maintenance training facilities and oversight and enforcement activities in respect of members.27
RA-Aus is responsible to CASA for the administration of ultralight, recreational and sport aviation in Australia. RA-Aus trains and certifies pilots, flying instructors and maintainers, registering a fleet of over 3,200 aircraft.28
The legislative framework governing aviation is considered in Chapter 3 of this report.
Apart from CASA, other agencies that are responsible for Australian aviation safety include:
The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communication, advises the Government on the policy and regulatory framework for Australian airports and the aviation industry, manages the administration of the Government's interests in privatised airports under the Airports Act 1996, and provides policy advice to the Minister on the efficient management of Australian airspace and on aircraft noise and emissions.29 The GAAN advises the Deputy Prime Minister on issues related to general aviation, as well as operating as a forum where industry representatives can identify opportunities to work collaboratively to respond to pressures, trends and issues facing the GA sector.30
Airservices Australia, a government owned statutory authority with responsibility for airspace management, aeronautical information, aviation communications, radio navigation aids and aviation rescue firefighting services.31
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), a statutory authority with responsibility for investigating aviation accidents and safety incidents, maintaining safety data and fostering safety awareness.
The Department of Defence, responsible for safety and airworthiness of military aviation systems.

Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport - Administration of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and related matters 2008 inquiry

In 2008, the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport completed an inquiry into the Administration of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and related matters.32 The inquiry came after CASA embarked on an extensive reform program involving all elements of its organisational and regulatory structure in 2003. This included the abolition of the CASA Board in 2003.
The committee, along with aviation stakeholders, voiced concerns over the slow pace of change at the time, and the extent to which this had impacted on CASA's ability to meet its regulatory responsibilities. The report noted stakeholder views which described CASA’s structural changes as 'protracted, piecemeal and chaotic'. 33
The committee's report contained three recommendations,34 to which the government responded in September 2009.35 The recommendations and government responses were as follows:
Recommendation 1: The committee recommends the Australian Government strengthen CASA's governance framework and administrative capability by:
introducing a small board of up to five members to provide enhanced oversight and strategic direction for CASA; and
undertaking a review of CASA's funding arrangements to ensure CASA is equipped to deal with new regulatory challenges.
Government response: A CASA Board has been established and legislative amendments to the Civil Aviation Act 1988 to give effect to the governance changes were passed by Parliament in March 2009, with the new arrangements in place from 1 July 2009.
Recommendation 2: The committee recommends, in accordance with the findings of the Hawke Taskforce, that CASA's Regulatory Reform Program be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible to provide certainty to industry and to ensure CASA and industry are ready to address future safety challenges.
Government response: In the National Aviation Policy Green Paper, the Government reaffirmed its commitment to have the regulatory reform program completed by 20102011.
Recommendation 3: The committee recommends that the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) audit CASA's implementation and administration of its Safety Management System (SMS) approach.
Government response: This is a matter for the Auditor General.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) subsequently agreed to the third recommendation of the committee. On 28 October 2010, the ANAO completed its audit into the Implementation and Administration of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority's Safety Management System Approach for Aircraft Operators.36 The audit made one recommendation—that CASA enhance the rigour of its desktop reviews of SMS, by introducing procedures that provide clearer and more consistent evidentiary trails regarding the basis on which approvals of an SMS were granted.

Aviation Safety Regulation Review (2014)

In November 2013 the Australian Government commissioned a review into the safety regulation system including the outcomes and direction of the regulatory reform process being undertaken by CASA.
The Australian Safety Regulation Review (ASR review) found that civil aviation safety regulations were viewed by the industry as 'overly legalistic, difficult to understand and focused on punitive outcomes'.37 The ASR review recommended changing from a two-tier regulatory framework (Act and regulations) to a three tier structure (Act, regulations and manuals of standards or civil aviation orders), 'removing as much detail as possible from regulations, and using plain language standards in the third tier'.38
According to the ASR review the general aviation section 'provides key services to remote communities that rely, sometimes exclusively, on aviation for important supplies, such as mail, medical services, and business and community services'.39 The review noted that non-commercial operations using small aircraft have specific safety concerns:
There are more substantial risks inherent in these small aircraft private operations given that the experience and knowledge of pilots may be lower than in commercial or aerial work operations, and operations may be from unprepared runways or in areas with limited facilities. Globally, as would be expected, the accident record of small aircraft GA operations is not as good as commercial operations. Risk in GA operations is generally proportional to the consequences: risk becomes greater as the number of persons carried on the aircraft increases, but given that operations are of small aircraft, there are usually few persons on the aircraft, lowering the risk.40
The review further stated that while there is ‘an increased responsibility […] placed with the owner or pilot’ for private operations, CASA still has a role 'to provide a degree of safety oversight to ensure licensed personnel understand their responsibilities', and to work towards 'increasing safety oversight responsibility being assigned to representative bodies'.41
Among its 37 recommendations, the review recommended that CASA establish a safety oversight risk management hierarchy based on a categorisation of operations and that rule making and surveillance priorities should be proportionate to the safety risk.42 The government agreed with this recommendation.
In December 2014, the Government response to the Aviation Safety Regulation Review report was released. An amendment to the Civil Aviation Act 1988 expanded the CASA Board to seven members, in order to increase aviation skills and experience, and a Statement of Expectation to the CASA Board was issued. The ATSB and the CASA Board responded through a Statement of Intent with corporate plans expected to deliver the relevant agreed recommendations from the report.43 There was an expectation that the Department play a stronger policy role in the State Safety Program (SSP), with the Aviation Policy Group providing leadership.44

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